Sankofa Reflection 2023: I’m Responsible

I’ve always wondered what my role is as a white female in the fight for justice, specifically around how Black people were and are treated in America. Sankofa allowed me to learn and dig deeper about things I only knew on the surface.

4 days. 4 days to experience only a fraction of the spaces, places, museums, and memorials that allow us to learn and remember what has happened in America. 4 days of jam-packed learning, grappling, repenting, lamenting, sharing, and processing.

To learn about our past in history books and be able to recite it is one thing, but going to the spots, spaces, places where tragedy and murder have happened was quite another. Suddenly, history steps out of the textbook and stands right in front of you, staring you in the eyes.

I grew up “knowing” the story of Emmett Till, but I never KNEW the story. We sat in the seats in the courthouse in Sumner, MS, where the trial for his brutal murder took place. It broke my heart to sit in those seats, close my eyes, and picture myself there, back in the ‘50s. I could hear the cries of Emmett’s family when the verdict was read aloud – “not guilty.” The pain, the grief, the sadness, the hopelessness that must have been felt by Emmett’s mom, family members, legal team, and community —

I sat there and felt responsible.

From there we drove to the property where the men took Emmett and murdered him all those years ago. We stood in front of the shed where he was tortured and beaten. Yet again, textbook became reality. We were staring it in the face. If you closed your eyes, you could hear Emmett calling out for his mama. You could hear the screams, the noises of him being tortured, the noise of the men wrapping him in a bedsheet as they prepared to go dump his body in the river.

I stood there and felt responsible.

As you’re grieving and lamenting, you stop and think, “I’m so glad things have changed.” But then you’re reminded they haven’t.

Mass incarceration. Two words that spark a lot of emotion and debate. I always knew there was a problem with our justice system in America and how it targets Black people, but I never put together that it was used as a loophole of getting around the 13th amendment and continuing the horror of enslavement.

Walking through the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama and seeing the stories of 14-year-old boys getting ripped away from their mothers as they are being thrown into prison for life with no chance of parole. Seeing the story of a 14-year-old boy who was executed on the electric chair (the youngest to ever be put to death by electrocution) and was never given a fair trial.

I stood there and felt responsible.

These experiences have caused me to repent. Repent for what has been done. Repent for what is still being done. Praying and hoping that one day the whole nation will repent. That the whole world will repent. Until then, I want to stand alongside my brothers and sisters and continue to learn, ask questions, and fight for justice. I want to hold myself responsible and be accountable to the things and righteous fights that God has put before me.

Carleigh McCormick is an Associate Pastor at Westwood Community Church’s Bloomington Campus. She has many years of ministry experience and feels honored and privileged to get to serve the church in this way. She has a passion for people, Jesus, her nephews and niece, and Raising Cane’s.

November 27, 2023